Posts Tagged: students
This time of year, it can be hard to resist the pull of sweet potatoes — roasted, mashed with butter, and topped with a combination of delectable treats from maple syrup to pecans to marshmallows. But did you know that the green leaves of the sweet potato plant also have the potential to be a tasty, nutritious food?
In Ethiopia, where sweet potatoes can be a staple crop, UC Davis graduate student Lauren Howe recently helped farmers taste test the leaves and consider this familiar crop in a new culinary light.
Watch a video to learn how to prepare sweet potato leaves:
The leaves of this drought-tolerant plant offer farming households there an alternative — and nutritious — food in the lean season, while they are waiting for its starchy, tuberous roots to be ready to eat. Introducing sweet potato leaves as a food option is intended to help farmers better diversify their families' diets, to include a wider variety of vegetables in addition to staple foods, especially during the dry season.
Boots on the ground with sweet potato farmers in Ethiopia
Lauren traveled to Ethiopia this summer to work with an organization called Send A Cow Ethiopia (SACE), on a Trellis Fund project. As part of the Horticulture Innovation Lab, each Trellis Fund project connects an organization in a developing country with a grad student from a U.S. university, to work together to benefit local farmers, while building the capacity of both the local organization and the student.
In Ethiopia, SACE helped Lauren better understand local contexts by connecting her with farming households to interview about their current farming practices and the role of sweet potatoes in their diets.
Later they traveled to meet with a group of about 25 farmers in the Ukara community to harvest leaves, cook together and discuss their perceptions of the leaves as a vegetable option.
Reflecting on taste tests, new foods, and rural communities
Lauren's own passion for food and witnessing how food can help build community is an important part of her reflection on this experience:
"This project is about creating tasty dishes to persuade people about the nutritional benefits of a new ingredient. It is gathering families, friends and neighbors to sit down to a communal meal (already a strong Ethiopian practice), breaking bread together, sharing stories, experiences and hopes for the future."
Background and related international agricultural research
Lauren's experience with a Trellis Fund project in Ethiopia was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, a research program led by Elizabeth Mitcham of the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. With a focus on fruit and vegetable innovation, the Horticulture Innovation Lab seeks to empower smallholder farmers in developing countries to earn more income and better nourish their communities — as part of the U.S. government's global Feed the Future initiative.
Past research from the Horticulture Innovation Lab has focused on other leafy greens, specifically African indigenous vegetables, and also on sweet potatoes themselves (orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, that is). Though the program has not done in-depth research on sweet potato leaves for human consumption beyond this small Trellis Fund project, you can find more information about eating sweet potato leaves and tips in this bulletin from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, and a wealth of information about sweet potato farming and gardening from the University of California Vegetable Research and Information Center.
Related Food Blog posts:
- New reason to give thanks for sweet potatoes
How orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are making a difference in some African countries
- More African indigenous vegetables on more plates
A brief look at some leafy greens popular in Eastern Africa
- Connecting with farmers over pineapple postharvest practices
Another Trellis student experience with a video
- ‘Local' farm inspiration from half a world away
A UC Cooperative Extension specialist reflects on his time as a Trellis student
Sweet potato leaves in Ethiopia - Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Lauren Howe/UC Davis
On the second Saturday of every month, Tuesday Simmons heads to the downtown Berkeley farmers market. Among the produce stalls and coffee stands, she sits behind a table with a sign that reads “Talk to a scientist!” She and other students spend the day fielding questions from strangers about topics that range from genetically modified foods to climate change and more.
“We never know who we'll talk to at our public events, or what kinds of questions we'll be asked,” said Simmons, a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (PMB). “This makes the farmers markets fun.”
Simmons' monthly visits to the farmers market are organized by the student group CLEAR (Communication, Literacy, and Education for Agricultural Research). The group aims to mentor the next generation of science communicators by engaging in open, transparent, and active conversations with the public about science and research. Funded through the University of California Global Food Initiative, CLEAR offers a series of scientific outreach events including activities at the farmers market, student-led lectures at libraries, and discussions with the public at local pubs.
The events are aimed at making science accessible.
“For members of the public who think scientists are a group of scary, isolated individuals funded by companies with special interests, these brief exchanges can be enough to make them question that assumption,” said Simmons, who also noted that translating her microbiology research for the public has helped improve her communication skills.
Learning to create compelling and impactful science communications is also a draw for Daniel Westcott, who joined the group in 2015. As a PMB graduate student who studies a specialized field — photosynthetic energy conversion in algae and plants — Westcott noted that discussing his research with non-scientists felt like a challenging hurdle to overcome.
Students like Westcott practice their communications skills through writing for the CLEAR blog. In their monthly blog posts, group members have tackled the economics of the meat industry, and the science behind the Impossible Burger, and the difficulty in labeling foods as “natural,” as well as highlighting CLEAR's ongoing outreach efforts.
Westcott understands that sharing his research with the public through the blog and other CLEAR activities is essential.
“Nearly two million scientific articles are published each year,” Westcott said. “Today's successful scientists must be media savvy in order to rise above the noise.”
Launched in 2015, CLEAR began as a project across three UC campuses — Berkeley, Davis, and San Diego. At Berkeley, co-founders Peggy Lemaux and Dawn Chiniquy, a PMB postdoctoral fellow, saw the funding as an opportunity to focus on outreach activities and mentorship opportunities, such as helping graduate students write for and talk to non-scientific audiences.
Lemaux is a UC Cooperative Extension specialist and PMB faculty member who studies food crop performance and quality. She said CLEAR is a student-driven organization. All members of CLEAR are volunteers, and a mix of undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers participate in the group's activities. Many of members are PMB students, but students from other scientific fields also participate in CLEAR's events and monthly meetings. Student scientists from across campus are welcome.
As the faculty organizer of CLEAR, Lemaux mentors students by providing feedback and guidance on their public presentations and blog posts. Recent student-led lecture topics include pesticide use and genetically modified foods, and as new members join the group, they'll continue to add new presentations to their calendar of events.
CLEAR also hosts workshops and trainings to foster students' science communication and writing skills. Last spring, the group invited NPR science writer Joe Palca to present a talk, “Real News or Fake Science.” More recently Brian Dunning of Skeptoid gave a presentation tittled “Science Communication in a Minefield of Fiction.” This fall, Sara ElShafie, a graduate student in the Department of Integrative Biology and founder of Science Through Story, will give a science communication workshop for CLEAR students.
In recent years, Lemaux has seen a shift in students' interest in outreach and science communication.
“Today's generation of scientists understand that they must be scientists in the lab and translate the message of their research — and research in general — for the public,” she said.
Some CLEAR students have pursued careers in public communication after leaving Berkeley. Mikel Shybut, PhD ‘15 Plant Biology, is now a fellow at the California Council on Science and Technology where he provides scientific analyses to state legislators. After arranging a day of informational meetings in Sacramento for a group of CLEAR students, Shybut commented, “It's heartening to see what CLEAR has accomplished in the last two years. The group's outreach efforts demonstrate that scientists can be effective messengers.”
Visit CLEAR's calendar to learn more about upcoming events. In September join CLEAR at the following events:
Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market: Come chat with CLEAR members and check out their science demos at the farmers market. They feature a different science theme each month and are always looking forward to listening to community members' science questions and concerns.
Science Café with PMB professor John Taylor: Join CLEAR members for a beer, fun fungus exhibits, and Dr. John Taylor's tentatively titled "Felons, Fungi and Rats: California's Valley Fever Epidemic.”
In 2013, a group of graduate students in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at the University of California, Berkeley sought out faculty support and successfully collaborated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) to launch the Program for Graduate Students in Extension (GSE). Participants receive up to a year of funding to conduct applied research and outreach to California communities, coordinate workshops and training events, and co-author materials with ANR academics. Over the course of the three-year pilot program, 14 students from across the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley have participated.
“There's really no program quite like this, where students can gain hands-on, graduate-level training in extension and outreach,” says ESPM professor John Battles, who chaired the program's steering committee. He adds, “We're grateful to all the UC ANR advisors and specialists who have offered invaluable mentorship to student fellows.”
Sustainable Food Systems and Climate Education
Alana Siegner (Energy and Resources Group, 2016–17 fellow) believes that to ensure the environmental sustainability of agricultural landscapes and to improve health outcomes for young people, it's important that students understand the scientific and social causes and consequences of climate change as it plays out in the U.S. food system. During her fellowship, she adapted existing climate change curricula to fit within farm-to-school programs, integrating food- and farming-specific examples into general lessons on climate adaptation and mitigation. The lessons, designed for students in grades 8 through 10, are hands-on, interdisciplinary, and solutions oriented, unfolding in both the classroom and the school-garden environments. Siegner piloted the curricula and other professional development resources with teachers at schools in Oakland and in Washington State's San Juan Islands.
Despite several advances in modeling techniques, climate projections are not widely used in agricultural decision-making. Kripa Akila Jagannathan (ERG, 2015–16 fellow) wanted to bridge this gap between climate science and decision-making needs by improving the understanding of what farmers consider relevant climate information. She interviewed almond growers in California about how they'd previously used climate information, what climatic variables were most relevant to them, and the content and communication methods that could make information on future climate more usable. Jagannathan's interviews showed that almond growers have experienced changes in climate over the past few decades that have affected plant growth. She hopes that providing growers with appropriate information on past trends and future projections can help them to make decisions that are better adapted to future climate.
Forestry and Ecosystem Education
Stella Cousins (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) collaborated with the Forestry Institute for Teachers, a free program that provides K–12 teachers in California with knowledge and tools for teaching their students about ecosystem science and forest resource management. In addition to presenting current research to participating educators, she shared do-it-yourself miniature microscopes that can help learners of all ages explore seeds, cells, fur, and other tiny wonders. Magnifying tree-core samples from the Sierra Nevada as an example, she demonstrated how a lesson in dendrochronology can facilitate classroom learning on the ways forests grow and are shaped by climate. Cousins says, “I hope that this project will support existing efforts to make sound and sustainable ecosystem-management choices, and also help foster lifelong curiosity in California's youth about the natural world.”
Conservation and Land Easements
Conservation easements are currently one of the primary channels for protecting private land. Since easements restrict development for both current and future owners, resale value is presumably diminished, and landowners are typically compensated with a one-time payment from a conservation group. Reid Johnsen (Agricultural and Resource Economics, 2016–17 fellow) wanted to explore the relationship between rancher identity, community, and potential preferences for alternative payment structures. He surveyed landowners in Marin and Sonoma counties to gauge their support for different options, including leases and annual payments for ecosystem services. He also constructed an economic model of stakeholder behavior to help assess which payment structure delivers the greatest combined welfare to landowners, conservation groups, and the public.
Hunting and Conservation
Luke Macaulay (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) surveyed private landowners and land managers in California to determine how recreational hunting may influence decisions regarding land-use and conservation practices. He regularly spoke on his survey findings and ran a workshop in Montana to encourage cooperative conservation efforts between hunters and environmentalists. “The feedback from the advisors on my mentorship team was invaluable in improving the quality of my research,” he reflects. The experience also had an impact on his career: In 2016, Macaulay was hired by CNR as a Cooperative Extension specialist in rangeland planning and policy.
Umm, a t-shirt? Right, you nailed it!
If you're trying to find something "buggy" for your friends and family, then you'll want to take a look at the design that won the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Students' Association (EGSA) t-shirt contest.
"Hymenoptera on a Bike" is the work of Stacey Rice, a junior specialist in the lab of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension specialist Larry Godfrey, who is based at UC Davis. Rice researches Bagrada bugs (Bagrada hilaris), an invasive stink bug from Africa known for attacking cole crops, including broccoli, cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and mustard.
She is also an artist, and a very creative one at that. So when the EGSA announced its annual t-shirt contest, Rice decided to fuse art with science.
“I wanted to draw a penny-farthing, which is part of the UC Davis culture,” she said. "Then I wanted an insect that would be able to put its abdomen on the seat and have long enough legs to reach the pedals.”
An alumnus of UC Davis, Rice received her bachelor's degree in biological sciences with a minor in veterinary entomology in March 2015. Her goal is to attend graduate school and receive her doctorate, either in integrated pest management or forensic entomology.
She became interested in both fields after enrolling in a “behavioral ecology of insects” course taught by Edwin Lewis, associate dean for agricultural sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and professor and former vice chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The t-shirt, now available to the public on the EGSA's website, sold well at the Entomological Society of America's recent meeting in Minneapolis. (For more information on the T-shirt and other EGSA t-shirts available, access the online store at http://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad or contact EGSA treasurer Cindy Preto at email@example.com. All proceeds benefit EGSA.)
And wasps? Think #wasplove.
When Amy Toth, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, presented a seminar in May to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, she covered her latest research on wasps and her enthusiasm was contagious.
We later asked her to list why she loves wasps (she coined the hashtag, #wasplove), and she obliged:
- They are pollinators
- They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants
- They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!
- They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.
- They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.
- Their social behavior, in my opinion, is the most human-like of any insect. They know each other as individuals, and are great cooperators overall, but there is an undercurrent of selfishness to their behavior, manifest in nearly constant passive-aggressive interactions between individuals.
- They are artists. They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.
- They are extremely intelligent. They're predators, architects, good navigators, and great learners. Among insects, they have large brains, especially the mushroom bodies (learning/memory and cognition area of insect brain).
- They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!
And to that list, we add No. 10: wasps are also photogenic!
Especially when they're riding a penny-farthing.
Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Junior specialist Stacey Rice of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology wearing the award-winning t-shirt that she designed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A foraging European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The award was presented to the Aggie inventors during the finals of the three-day global iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) competition in Boston. The competition, this year featuring 245 teams from Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, challenges student teams to design and build biological systems or machines and present their inventions in the international competition.
The students had spent several months designing and building the palm-sized biosensor, which they dubbed OliView. The biosensor is equipped to quickly and easily evaluate the chemical profile of oil, providing producers, distributors, retailers and ultimately consumers with an effective, inexpensive way to ensure olive oil quality.
Verifying olive oil quality is a concern for consumers – many of whom are willing to pay higher prices for the health benefits and flavor of true, extra-virgin olive oil. And honest olive oil producers want to prevent other producers from passing off sub-par olive oil as the real deal, while retailers, distributors and producers want a quick, easy way to ensure olive oil quality.
In addition helping detect fraudulent olive oil, the students' new biosensor will also monitor for good oil that may have gone rancid with age.
The team of undergraduate students included Lucas Murray, Brian Tamsut, James Lucas, Sarah Ritz, Aaron Cohen and Simon Staley, with Yeonju Song serving as the “shadow” or alternate team member. You can tune into Aaron Cohen's recent Nov. 6 Science Friday interview during a discussion of synthetic biology.
The full story and a brief video about the new olive-oil biosensor and this stellar team of young inventors are available at: http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=11076.
Reports on olive-oil quality are available at the web site of the UC Davis Olive Center at: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/research/reports.